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Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill in Moneyball. (Photo: Columbia Pictures).

The O’Toole Chronicles: Managing in the Big Leagues

By Kevin O'Toole, December 14 2021 12:01 am

I was watching an interesting movie the other day, “Moneyball,” and it got me thinking about good management. For those who are not baseball fans, the movie depicts a real life event about the General Manager of the Oakland Athletics who essentially reinvented baseball by integrating analytics and new player evaluations into America’s favorite pastime. Let me add editorially, this theorizing works best when Major League Baseball is not experiencing a lock out.

Back to our movie, former baseball player, Billy Beane (played by Brad Pitt) is the focus of the story and the plot slowly displays how the inventive GM uses newly discovered analytics and metrics to measure the potential of ball players. In short, baseball teams have used scouts and general statistics like batting average, home runs, fielding errors and other basic numbers to serve as predictors of the future.

In comes Beane’s refresher course. The newly discovered method uses far greater, finite statistics like on base percentage and slugging percentage and overall ability to get in a position to score more runs.

A mathematical genius, Bill James, a so-called sabermetrician, created this new methodology by using sabermetrics to perform a mathematical and statistical analysis of baseball statistics and performances.

The truth is that smaller market teams like the A’s could not compete financially with the larger markets and they needed an edge.  This newly discovered system was a game changer. It allowed teams with much smaller budgets to access better players who were not yet break through (read expensive) players, but on the verge of making it. The key is to acquire these now low cost talents and give them an environment to flourish.

The point of this column is not necessarily to focus on the sometimes-fascinating world of baseball data, but rather on how we can use new management tools to maximize productivity. Who could argue with that?

To make a powerful point, at one critical point in the movie, Billy Beane is talking to his highest paid player, David Justice, who was recently traded from the Yankees and had a bit of a chip on his veteran shoulders.  The following exchange takes place as David is taking batting practice.

 BILLY: We have a problem?

JUSTICE: No, its okay, man. I know your routine. It’s a patter, it’s for effect. But it’s for them.  Aright? It’s not for me.

BILLY: Oh you’re special?

JUSTICE: You’re paying me 7 million bucks so, yeah maybe I am a little.

BILLY: No man, I am not paying you seven, the Yankees are paying half your salary. That’s what the New York Yankees think of you. They’re paying you three and a half million dollars to play against them.

JUSTICE: Where are you going with this, Billy?

BILLY: David, you’re 37.  How about you and I be honest what each of us wants.  I want to milk the last ounce of baseball you have left in you, and you want to stay in the show. So let’s do that. I’m not paying you to be the player you used to be, I’m paying you to be the player you are now. You’re smart, you get what we are trying to do here. Make an example for the younger guys.  Be a leader.

That one simple exchange tells a story about how to manage. Whether it is a campaign staff, legislative office, a baseball team, corporate environment or a governor’s office, successfully managing and navigating requires a manager to be focused and firm, while also being human and fluid.

A few thoughts:

  • Be open minded to new science or methods
  • Understand each employee is different and work to motivate each individual with the right incentives
  • Recognize when the team is overworked and find a reward system when overload hits
  • Do not push beyond the stated objective
  • Get buy in and collaborate as opposed to being the boss
  • Yelling is just rude and counter productive
  • Take a moment and ask how your colleague is doing
  • Be honest without being mean—pull a punch but get your point across
  • Never give out an assignment that you have not or will not do
  • Celebrate the little team victories
  • Say thank you a lot
  • Repeat – say thank you a lot

I have learned a few things along the way. I pass along the above for current and future managers. In a nutshell, managers need to manage and take responsibility, own the failures and pass along the successes to others.

For those managers out there – from the mouth of Billy Beane – be a leader.



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